By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
The anguish was palpable at Ground Zero yesterday, as family members made their way down a long ramp into the vast emptiness of the World Trade Center site, then took turns reading out the names of their lost loved ones.
"We love you, Georgie. We'll see you soon," pledged the parents of a fallen firefighter, their sad voices broadcast to the crowds of grieving onlookers milling quietly around the perimeter.
Into this somber setting marched about a dozen 9-11 conspiracists, who claimed a patch of sidewalk to preach what they called the truth. "These people weren't killed by Arab terrorists. You've been lied to!" shouted a woman who looked vaguely like Joey Ramone, holding up one end of a banner that read, "9-11 World Trade Center: Controlled Demolition."
She lectured about how only a series of controlled explosions could have so rapidly pancaked the twin towers. "There's no way jet fuel could have melted all that steel. It was a freefall. The concrete was so thoroughly pulverized, Manhattan was blanketed in dust. Think about it," she urged. "Do your homework, please!"
Her message played about as badly as could be expected. "I was there, so shut the fuck up. You don't know what you're talking about," snapped an enraged firefighter in fatigues, stalking off into the crowd.
"You shouldn't be here. Have some respect," another firefighter shouted.
"It's a crime scene," Lisa Giuliani shot back. "We honor them with the truth. Al Qaeda is a concept. This is state-sponsored terrorism."
The clamor was all too much for a passing tourist. "God bless America, you bitch!" he screamed in a thick accent.
"Go back to where you came from, you foreigner," groused a fellow conspiracist.
"But I am French," the tourist responded indignantly.
And so it went, a sad comedy of slurs that went on for most of the morning, drawing crowds of puzzled onlookers before the police would shoo them away to clear the sidewalk.
At one point, an auxiliary fireman stepped forward and tried to reason with the protesters to "respect the memorial sentiment."
"Believe me, I have questions too," he told the protesters. "But you've got to respect the dead. These people are not ready for this. You're just creating resentment."
The demolition lady was adamant. "There is no good time. I lost a lot of firefighter friends too," she maintained, adding, "This is the only way we can reach the 9-11 families."
Victor Ortiz mourns the loss of his mom with wife Amanda
photo: Sarah Ferguson
One might have thought the Bush administration's bungled response to the Katrina catastrophe could put a crimp in conspiracists' efforts to prove that the 9-11 was much more than just a colossal "failure of the imagination," as the 9-11 commission claimed. After seeing firsthand how President Bush and FEMA ignored years of warnings about the threat of a hurricane on the Gulf Coast, then dawdled while people drowned, maybe it's not so hard to fathom how our vacationing president could have blown off repeated intelligence warnings about the growing threat of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in the summer of 2001.
Yet it seems Katrina is now just more fuel for the conspiracy pyre, with the Internet buzzing with theories of how the feds blew up the levees to flood poor areas of New Orleans and preserve the ritzy French Quarter.
Down at Ground Zero, the 9-11 "truth" warriors were clearly emboldened by the hurricane fiasco. "The public saw people dying while Condi was shopping for shoes, Dick Cheney was playing fake cowboy, and Bush was backstage playing guitar," relished Ben Maurier of Brooklyn, who predicted a wash of new converts to the cause. "If they knowingly allowed that many people to die in New Orleans, why should it be a stretch that the government did 9-11?"
Had they gotten off their soap boxes, the conspiracists might have found more empathy among survivors like Kevin Lester, who worked on the 102nd floor of the North Tower, and who lost his brother and numerous coworkers there. "I sometimes wonder if there could have been a conspiracy," confessed Lester, who said he survived on 9-11 only because he popped downstairs to get his shoes shined just before the first plane hit. "Some of the arguments kind of make sense, like the slow response rate [to the hijacked planes], or how Bush reacted that day. I saw Fahrenheit 911. It makes you wonder.
"But still, I just kind of deplore heavy-duty political rhetoric at a memorial. Why today? Why?" he demanded. "Right now I'm still dealing with survivor's guilt. How about giving us a hug rather than stamping in our face?"
The 9-11 Truth squad protesting outside Rockefeller Plaza, home to NBC.
photo: Sarah Ferguson
"Why isn't the media asking these questions?" demanded retired Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bowman, who has become one of the celebrity skeptics because of his credentials as a former interceptor pilot who helped direct the Star Wars program under Carter and Ford. "Where are the tapes of the Pentagon hit? Where are the tapes of the conversations between NORAD and the air traffic controllers? Why are they hiding them? If our government had done nothing and just let normal procedures happen, those planes would have been intercepted and thousands of people would still be alive. It's treason," he insisted. "Bush and Cheney should be impeached."
But the Grey Lady didn't even blink, with not so much as a reporter poking a head out of one of the windows.
Many in the crowd seemed shocked that more New Yorkers had not joined them. They pointed to a Zogby poll taken last summer that showed half of all New Yorkers believe the U.S. leaders had "foreknowledge" of the attacks and "consciously" failed to act.
But that word "consciously" is slippery, and could just as well refer to what people can now read in the media: that Bush, the NSA, CIA and FBI on down had information that a big attack on America was about to happen.
Undaunted, the protesters marched through the canyons of Midtown, shoveling leaflets at bewildered shoppers as they chanted things like "Figure it out. It's not hard. Nine-11 was an inside job!" and even "Remember New Orleans!"as if anyone could forget. They passed by the headquarters of FOX, NBC, Time Warner, and CNN, pausing to shout at the media for ignoring them as a few police officers looked on.
Choking Victim inciting the masses to "Fuck World Trade" on 9-11.
photo: Sarah Ferguson
According to organizers, it took a team of three lawyers to swing the permit past Parks Department officials, who reportedly didn't like the timing and theme of the concert, nor the fact that the lead singer of Choking Victim is also the singer of Leftover Crack, whose last concert sparked a melee between police and bottle-throwing punks last November.
But this time, the police seemed virtually nonexistent as Choking Victims' myriad fans sang along to lyrics like "Kill the cops," "Fuck America," and "Fuck world trade."
Onstage, lead singer "Stza Crack" preached more conspiracies. "George Bush's brother Marvin Bush was head of security at the World Trade Center up until 9-11, and they were doing nefarious things," Crack told his drunken fans. "They wanted another Pearl Harbor to install the Patriot Act and take us to war. Don't listen to the media; the media is there for maximum securityto tell you lies!"
As the band broke into their hit anthem of alienation, "Born to Die," a young punk in bleached hair and mod sunglasses dashed to the mike and shouted: "Kill George Bush! Or we're all going to die!"
Unlike at Ground Zero, the folks here seemed not to mind such giddy provocation. Josh Copeland, a 21-year-old Rutgers student sporting a heavy chain and padlock around his neck, said he didn't buy the conspiracy angles voiced onstage but supported more dissent about the "social and economic" causes of 9-11. "This is really for the sake of acting out. You see there's a huge turnout for this. People are really very angry and they don't know what to do. Protest is losing its power."
"Yeah," said one of his beer-addled female companions. "The only thing left is drinking, drugs, and suicide."